Posts Tagged ‘Architecture’

Hunting for the US

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

When we left off we had just arrived in Astana and were making our way South exploring the city. We were also looking for a place to register our visas, and keeping our eyes open for a hotel (which I had learned in Russian, thanks to my phrasebook, was gostinitsa).

Just north of the river we ran into a student who spoke some English, the first Anglophone we had met so far in Kazakhstan, and asked her if she knew where the US Embassy was, we had a few questions including where we could register our passports (we figured the Embassy could help us with that) and where to find an English-speaking church service (we had no idea if they could help us, but figured we’d ask anyway). She told us where she thought it was, pointing to an area on the map and telling us it was near “The Pyramid” (which turned out to have been designed by Sir Norman Foster himself). We went to where she said, found no pyramid, found no embassy, and made our way to the tower of Astana.

While under the tower, we spotted a few policemen in their giant, round hats lounging on a nearby street corner. I was a bit reticent to approach them, as I always am with policemen, for some reason (perhaps related to my experiences with extortion in other countries I’ve visited). But, Matt’s cool-headedness prevailed and we walked up to them. In broken, horribly pronounced Russian learned directly from the phrasebook I had been studying as we walked, we asked where the embassy was and, after quite a bit of map flipping and some squabbles among the three officers, were given a route to get to the embassy which was apparently right near the Pyramid, although the Pyramid was on the other side of the city from what we had been told.

Before we left we asked the kind policemen where we could register our visas and were met with a bit of shock when we handed them our unregistered passports and informed them of our predicament. They told us they had no idea how to help us, drew a location on our map telling us someone there might be able to help us and bid us goodbye in Russian (dosvedanya), English (goodbye), and, for some reason, Italian (ciao). Matt and I headed off encouraged. We could communicate a bit in Russian and had a pretty good idea of where the Embassy was!

It took a bit of walking and the directions turned out to be a bit off. We were standing slightly forlornly on the street corner when all of the sudden I spotted a giant US flag waving proudly over a huge building (remember, Kazakhstan has oil). We had found it and were a bit proud of our nation for providing such a beacon of hope to us. That hope was crushed, however, when we approached the well-defended embassy and talked to the entrance guard, Dmitry. He spoke English slowly, with a stutter, and had a limited vocabulary. That was ok with us, however. What was not so ok was that the Embassy was closed for the day and wouldn’t be open until 8 or 9 the next morning. No help there.

We made our way back toward the city, it was along walk. We stopped at one “supermarket” (the sign for which I could now read after studying the Cyrillic alphabet for a bit), found the prices to be out of our range and kept trudging. That evening, however, we had our first break. We found a cafe by Matt’s intuition and my Russian reading and discovered that delicious tea was only 100KT and a plate of delicious crepes with sour-cream was only 200KT! For about €1 each we had a wonderful break from our walking, two cups of delicious green chai (another word I could read, hooray!) and some heartwarming crepes. We also listened to MTV Dance Russia… which was not so heartwarming and was rather loud over the cafe speakers.

We made our way back North, it was getting late and we didn’t find the train station until after 11 that evening. Upon arriving back at the hotel we found one fellow already asleep in our room and another just coming in for the night. I had a nice conversation with him in what English he understood. It turned out he was an Electrical Engineer just in town for a short stay and was leaving rather early the next morning. Matt and I bid him goodnight and made our way outside to surreptitiously, and quickly cooked up a pot of stew in the parking lot behind an ancient Soviet dump-truck and crawled quietly into our beds so as not to wake our two roommates. We slept in the next morning, although not particularly well as our roommates had to catch their trains early, one left loudly at around 0400 and the Electrical Engineer left a bit less loudly at around 06:30.

We had learned a lot in our first day in Astana and were still learning the ropes.

Turkish Delight

Sunday, August 2nd, 2009

I (Matt) navigated us to the Turkish border the morning of the eighteenth and remained reading in the car while Dan ventured into the offices to assess the costs of entry. He believed the man behind the counter at the border to say it would cost 50 each for a visa. He walked to the ATM and withdrew 100 Euro. He walked back to the man and learned they required Turkish Lira. He walked back to the ATM and exchanged the money into Lira. He walked back to the man and learned they only required 15 Lira each. Let me interject here and tell you that it’s really difficult to differentiate between 15 and 50 in foreign accents. We’ve experienced this several times on the trip, including the time when I insulted a t-shirt vendor at the U2 concert. In my defense, the t-shirt was only worth 15 Euro to me. Dan continued walking, returning to the border checkpoint with our visas before being informed of the required 40 Euro Turkish insurance for our car. He walked to another counter, bought that, and returned to the checkpoint. Daniel drove us into Turkey, delighted to be in Turkey and also off his feet. “To Istanbul!” we almost literally exclaimed.

Once in the city, we sat in a traffic jam off the Bosphorus for an hour before finding parking near the towering Hagia Sophia. We walked across the old city in search of an ATM. Only later did we realize we has walked past half a dozen. Dan must have wanted to walk a little more that day. I’m kidding, but at least we saw more of Istanbul. With our money, we tried to decipher our map and ended up at the Archeology Museums. A few Lera and we wandered the incredible collection of over one million objects from nearly every civilization in history. Istanbul, the bridge between the East and the West, has collected so many impressive artifacts from both sides. These included Hellenistic gravestones with concise, wonderful inscriptions like: “Marcus Flavius, he who caused no harm, farewell.” We also saw the oldest known peace treaty in the world, the Kadesh Peace Treaty, signed between Ramesses II of Egypt and Hattusili III of the Hittite Empire in 1258 B.C. There were some 800 thousand Ottoman coins, seals, decorations and medals. There were even artifacts with crazy-small inscriptions from the early civilizations of Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Arabia and Egypt, a few dating as far back as 5000 B.C. Delightfully mind-boggling dates. We walked back between the Hagia Sophia and the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (aka Blue Mosque) and found a hotel for the night. A room to ourselves, a warm shower, free parking across the street, free wi-fi access, a fan, clean sheets, comfortable pillows, a small breakfast, and the comfort of relaxing : $25. The ability to look out our room’s fourth floor window, across to the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, practically on either side : priceless and delightful.

We walked to the Istanbul Strait for some Turkish coffee and a bottle of water to wash it down. Seriously. I jokingly called it motor oil. Not really, but it was certainly of a similar consistency, really thick and strong. Daniel liked it. Cultural experience. Back at the hotel I called my parents on Skype and Interneted late into the night. The soothing piano music from the restaurant below our window was silent be the time I finally signed off and fell happily asleep, clean body in a clean bed. I mention clean because I hadn’t had a shower since that Monday and had sweat a lot in the week’s summer heat. Another delightful shower in the morning and we left by 11 for church. Over the next two hours were involved in an accident and lost several times.

I had the laptop in my lap, trying to navigate from the Google map, turning right onto a busy Istanbul road, stuck behind a bus, signaled, and when I thought we were clear, Dan pulled around the bus. Halfway into our lane, a taxi whipped around the corner and slid its right, rear wheel well across front, left bumper. Dan pulled off to the side of the road and jumped out to face the less-than-delighted taxi driver. The traffic cops arrived soon and it took an hour to sort out paperwork and work out blame for the accident. An officer assured Dan we were innocent and we left with a photocopy of the taxi driver’s insurance information. We continued to struggle to navigate the city for the next hour, getting “stuck” in a tiny back ally when it suddenly dead-ended and we didn’t have room to turn the Passat around. A woman came out of her apartment and shared laughter with us and with another woman until a man arrived to move his van, letting us out. A couple more narrow roads, steep slopes, navigation in reverse, automotive showdowns, and we found a parking garage and walked to the Dutch Embassy and it’s service in Turkish and English. We attempted to sing along with the Turkish worship music and a man translated the lesson, delivered by four Turkish men. We left the delightful service and were served some coconut, chocolate, and pistachio-flavored Turkish Delight.

We finally visited the Hagia Sophia, the largest cathedral in the world for a thousand years after its completion in 537 A.D. Byzantine Emperor Justinian ordered its construction and proclaimed of the rich decoration, “Solomon, I have outdone thee!” The Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453 and converted the building into a mosque. The Christian features were replaced by Islamic, four minarets were built outside, and many of the mosaics were eventually plastered over. We toured the building, now a museum, enjoying its incredible Byzantine architecture of uncovered mosaics and massive marble pillars and ornamentation. I’m not sure, but Solomon would have probably been delighted. The main columns, each over 65 feet of granite weighing 70 tons, support the 102 feet wide central dome 182 feet above the floor. Not of Solomon’s wisdom but we were delighted. We retraced our steps westward towards Bulgaria.

Matt

The Greeks Knew How to Build

Sunday, August 2nd, 2009

It was Thursday (16/07) when we reentered Athens, found a parking spot and set out to explore one of the most famous sites in the world: The Acropolis. The rather expensive tickets (€12) gave us entrance to the Acropolis and a number of other sites in the area. Athens is a hotbed of archaeological sites, with dozens across the city. The city has been inhabited for thousands of years and a center of civilization for most of that time.

The Acropolis, for most of that time, has been the center of Athens. It was the temple, the administrative area, a market, everything. The most impressive buildings are still in the process of being restored. Much of the Parthenon was obscured by scaffolding, for example. Still, to see these places where the history of our civilization began to take its’ current form. We entered through the Propylaea, the ceremonial gate, and began to explore the grounds.

Matt and I split up at the top and visited the sites in different orders. There was the Parthenon, a huge building used as a main temple for the the city which contained a giant statue of Athena, but after having been destroyed after the Turkish occupation, the Parthenon was then raided by the British Lord Elgin (with the Turkish government’s permission) who took almost all of the sculptures and friezes to London leaving the Parthenon a ravaged tabula rasa.

The Erechtheum was just across the main open area. There, the porch of the Caryatids was the resting place of many of ancient Athens’ religious treasures and possible some of its early kings. Many of the other buildings were destroyed, but pieces of columns and other building debris were scattered around the area. Over the edge of the top of the mountain, two large amphitheaters, one of Greek origin and the other of Roman origin are still used to this day. After exploring the site for a while Matt and I met back up and went to the Acropolis Archaeological Museum—just opened in June!—and explored it. It contained much of Athens’ treasures, mainly Greek and Roman sculptures.

Matt and I met up at the car again and went for some Gyros. Cheap and delicious! Then we were on our way again. We drove north west, hit the coast and continued more west past through Lamia. We had heard from the Zimmermans about a cluster of Greek Orthodox monasteries built on top of immense free-standing rock columns called meteoron (from the Greek μετεορον which means “suspended from the heavens” or something… the same root of the word meteor) and intended to get there by the next morning. We got lost a few times on our way but eventually reached the area, although we couldn’t see any of the monasteries. We cooked dinner and slept in a small pull-off area by the side of the road.

The next morning, not knowing exactly how far from the monasteries we were, we got up and, after some breakfast müesli we were on our way. Around the very next corner, we saw it. Dozens of rock pillars rising majestically from the valley floor. They seemed so out of place, like a modern art exhibit in the middle of the desert. The tops were covered in vegetation and seemed relatively flat, the tops ranged in size from a few acres to a few dozen square feet. Within our view, the tops of three of the pillars—one small, one medium, and one venti—was covered with stone buildings with red roofs, like tile icing on a stone muffin.

The entire area reminded me of a computer game I used to play called Riven (an intense, puzzle game played in a world that looks much like the area around the meteoron). A blue sky provided the background for the greys, reds, and greens of the meteoron. There are six of these structures scattered in the area (now a national religious monument, so free of too many chincy souvenir stands, although there were a few). Five of them are monasteries and one is a nunnery. The three we could see from our vantage point by the side of the mountain road above the valley of the meteoron were a small one, I don’t know what it’s called, one medium sized-one—I was later informed is about the average size—named Varlaam, and a very big one named The Holy Monastery of the Great Meteoron. We decided to aim for the big one and see if we could get in, and then we noticed about a dozen tourist buses and several dozen cars… we were disappointed, but decided to go for it anyway.

We entered The Holy Monastery of the Great Meteoron via a hike down into the valley and a steep climb up a tunnel then stairs all painstakingly carved into the side of the pillar. At the top, we were greeted at the door by a man who we were a bit disappointed that the man taking our money was not dressed in a monk’s habit but rather a tee-shirt and jeans. The entrance only cost €1 though, so that the took the sting away. The monastery itself was more like a museum, but a tasteful museum with some exhibits in English.

The monastery itself seemed much like a normal 8th century monastery which has been rebuilt and improved and expanded several times over the past millennium or so, although the size was limited to the extent of the flat area at the top of the pillar. At the time I was reading Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose and was pleased to discover all the parts of the abbey were almost exactly the same. Seeing a living, active monastery with its chapel, dining room, kitchen, prayer room, library, servants’ quarters, even an ossuary really brought that rather disturbing book to light.

The first section we explored was an historical exhibit in an area that had been a dormitory for the monks. It gave the history of both the Greek state: the history of the modern state and the ancient nation. It also gave the parallel story of the Greek Orthodox church culminating in Greek freedom after World War II and the modern establishment of the Meteoron monasteries. We also visited a shrine to a few orthodox saints and the stories of several martyrs who had lived in the Meteora. Photos will convey the glory of these places and how they glorify God through the way they blend with their surroundings better than I can.

We left the Grand Meteoron and went down the road a bit to a spot we thought would be fun to climb. It was like a miniature version of one of the pillars so we climbed. It was a bit tricky and a bit nerve-wracking at a few points, but enjoyable after doing quite a bit of driving the day before. When we had finished climbing and were heading back to the car, we were confronted by an American. He asked us what we were up to and what brought us to the Meteoron. We talked for a bit comparing stories and then we gave him and his friend a trip down to the town at the bottom of the mountains where their bus would take them to Larissa.

It turns out that the one fellow, Tim, was an English teacher in Madrid, Spain where he was participating in a Spanish government program. He and his friend, Savannah, who was an engineering student in München, Germany, were traveling between Istanbul and North-Eastern Greece just for fun. We had an enjoyable time swapping stories with them, dropped them off at the bus, picked up some good drinks (it was an extremely hot day). Then, we headed for Turkey, although that evening we did make a very quick trip north just barely getting into Macedonia just to add a country with such a cool flag to our trip.

To Dalmatia, with Problems

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

The night of the 8th the 50% smaller crew arrived in Venice and wandered the streets for a while. We both decided that Venice is a city best visited with wives. We figured it was good to scout it out, though, just so we knew what we were doing if we ever brought our wives there. I especially enjoyed all of the amazing architecture, almost all built on piers in the middle of the water. It’s difficult to determine where the islands end and the water begins and there are no streets of asphalt or even cobblestone, just walkways and waterways.

We slept that night an hour or so outside of Venice, and the next morning took off toward Slovenia. The border crossing with Slovenia went off without a hitch and we were in… but then we remembered that we had to make a call to an Italian toll-free number to verify with our bank that it was, indeed, us who were using our cards all over the continent. We turned around, made the call, and then headed back into Slovenia. Wanting to avoid paying a vignette (highway tax) we took the scenic routes, leading us to the top of a mountain with a centuries-old graveyard overlooking a beautiful valley. We eventually made our way to a border crossing with Croatia and were turned back because it was for local use only, but the border guard did give us very clear directions to a border crossing we could use.

We approached the crossing in a carefree manner, unconcerned since the past several dozen border crossings had gone without a hitch. We pulled up, they took our passports, they asked us to pull to the side, all good so far. The one border guard, a rather curt fellow with unhappy features, started searching our car. Not a problem, we had nothing to hide and had gone through a few cursory searches before. But this one was different. Everything was taken out, the car was ripped apart. Every bag was opened, all of our seasonings, our dried soup mixes, our bookbags, our CD cases, everything. The guy searched everything while a second fellow, slightly younger, called in our passports for background checks.

In the meantime, another fellow took Matt and I one by one into a small, air-conditioned room for about 10 minutes of intense questioning and a strip search. They were looking for drugs and were certain that we had them. We were told time and time again that it would be better for us to just give them the drugs and we could go. “Just give us the drugs” they said. “We don’t have drugs!” we said. They asked if it was ok if they gave us a urinalysis and called the drug dogs. We readily and heartily agreed! Finally a way to definitively prove our innocence! They were disappointed and didn’t call the dogs or drug testers.

They continued to search the car, they took all the bags out, they opened our ibuprofen bottle, they called in our passports to other officials. They were completely convinced that we had drugs, especially when they learned that we had been to both Amsterdam—home of Marijuana—and Morocco—home of Hashish—AND were students traveling Europe. They made us sit on the curb while they searched and called, searched and called. They discovered Matt’s GORP and exclaimed in glee! “Checka! Checka Checka!” They were disappointed when they realised it was trail mix.

It took almost two hours of humiliation for them to begrudgingly accept that we weren’t smuggling large quantities of who knows what. I’m still not sure they were convinced, but they did wave us on. It took us almost 10 minutes to get enough of our stuff (as little of it as there is after Dan and David left) back into the right places in the car and off we went, free of the tyranny of the Croatian border guards and it turns out we didn’t have any drugs… surprise, surprise.

I had mixed feelings about the entire situation. For one, it’s good to protect nations against illegal drugs and their importation, on the other hand they could have been more polite as we cooperated fully, they could have had a dog check the car, they could have been more careful with our things, they could have put things back where they found them. These were the hurt feelings I was mulling over as we drove away, but all of this was mixed with a feeling of relief.

We had to find somewhere to relax after the past few days of stress culminating in the unnecessary intrusion of our privacy at the border so we headed for the beaches of Croatia along the Dalmatian coast.

Big to Just a Little Bit Smaller

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

We left the big city of Rome and realized we should probably find showers. That’s right, I (Matt) had taken Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, the world’s largest church, after traipsing, sweating through Rome and living out of a car for six days without a shower. Thankfully, Jesus accepts me despite the smell. That afternoon, a couple hours north of Rome, we stopped at a rest stop and took real showers for a 2 Euro donation. We walked down to the station’s showers and the woman in charge went off in Italian, something about the cold water. She was quieted by our small token of appreciation and smirked at our condition. The water wasn’t hot but it was comfortable, especially since it cleaned.

Around seven that night we arrived in Florence. We quickly stood at a lookout and looked . . . out, over the city, alongside hoards of tourists. We fled down into the city, crossing the river and winding through the streets to its Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, the fourth largest church of Europe. After St. Peter’s, we were more impressed with the dome and the building’s ornamentation than its size. It’s exterior is covered with engraved marble in shades of green and pink, bordered by white. It’s dome, the largest brick dome ever constructed, was engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi after the Pantheon. After the Romans, the formula for concrete was “forgotten” and Brunelleschi was forced to build the dome out of bricks. Brunelleschi, a smart guy, built the octagonal, double-walled dome on a separate drum and not on the roof itself, do that it could be built without using scaffolding. It was the first dome built this way and weighs only 37,000 tons with over 4 million bricks. Barely smaller.

Unfortunately, the museum housing Michelangelo’s David statue was closed for the evening and was closed on Mondays, the next day. Instead, we saw a replica of David and concluded we hadn’t missed much. You’ve seen one naked guy, you’ve seen them all. We camped for the night just outside Florence and drove east to cook lunch on a bridge in San Marino.

We figured we prepared the only spaghetti and popcorn ever cooked on a bridge in San Marino, the world’s smallest republic and Europe’s third smallest country after only Vatican City and Monaco. More interesting facts: San Marino is the smallest member of the Council of Europe and is part of the United Nations though not the European Union. It’s is the oldest sovereign state in the world. The Constitution of San Marino, enacted in 1600, is the world’s oldest constitution still in effect. A stonecutter, Marinus of Rab, Croatia, founded the nation on the third of September, 301 A.D. As the legend goes, Marinus left Rab, then a Roman colony, in 257 under the future emperor Diocletian’s religious persecution.

Shenk, Ziegler, and I only briefly considered these things as we scaled a cliff to the impressive wall above the republic’s capital, appropriately named the City of San Marino (Città di San Marino). Wisely, David opted to remain below to protect his ankle and watch tennis on clay courts. The Dans and I walked the wall a bit but soon returned to the car before splurging on Gelato for a few Euro. Back in the car, we drove and slept between the small republic and Milan. Around noon Tuesday (July 7), we stopped at a rest area outside the city to begin transitioning to the next phase of the trip. Slightly smaller.

The Eternal City: Empires Old and New

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

We arrived at Rome in the middle of the afternoon on July 2. Roman history is one of my favorite areas of study so I anticipated Rome with more excitement than I any other city we visited. We parked at the train station in EUR, a less than eternal suburb of Rome, and took the train into the city for an introductory exploration. It was the oddest thing to walk out of the dirty metro station and see the Colosseum, one of the greatest relics of the ancient world, right in front of me.

This magnificent stadium was our introduction to a feeling that would soon become familiar during our stay at Rome: a sense stupefied wonder that something so old could still be standing. Because it was only two hours before the Colosseum closed we decided to postpone our tour until we could be sure of enough time to truly experience it. We began making our way to the Pantheon, hoping for an opportunity to watch the rain that loomed in the Eastern sky fall through the hole in the center of the dome. The weather did not oblige, however, because suddenly the sky opened in a truly torrential downpour. We were caught in the open with no accessible buildings within sprinting distance but finally found adequate shelter under the bowl of an nonoperational fountain. We watched with amusement as mobs of shrieking tourists ran by, umbrellas rendered useless by the driving wind, in desperate search for shelter.

When the skies finally cleared we made our way towards the Pantheon once more. It proved magnificent both inside and out. Unlike most relics of ancient Rome, the Pantheon has not crumbled under the weight of dozens of centuries and still appears (except for the replacement inside of Catholic saints for Roman gods) as it did when it was first constructed. Its huge dome is still a mystery to modern architects. From the Pantheon we walked to Vatican City and St.Peter’s Cathedral before turning back towards the Colosseum metro station. On our way back we got what was to become a staple of our stay in Rome: Gelato ice cream. It was nearly as magnificent as the city itself and we had it every day of our visit.

The next morning we toured the Colosseum and Capital hill where Nero and the Flavain emperors (Vespasian and sons) built their stupendous palaces. It was spectacular to be walking in and around structures that were in use almost 2,000 years ago (The Colosseum was built 80 AD). Many aspects of the Colosseum were on par with modern stadiums (e.g., Retractable roof and efficient exit system that evacuated 50,000 spectators in minutes), though perhaps the fact that it can still accommodate visitors after thousands of years on earthquake-prone gound is most impressive. Capital Hill was also amazing in this regard. Structures towered over us, arches and half domes and tunnels millennium old, but made of brick that could have been laid a few days ago. That evening we dined on genuine Italian pizza, with beverage and appetizer, for only eight euros. It was probably the best money I have ever spent.

We spent our last full day in Rome in Vatican city. We began with a tour of St. Peter’s, which was free unless you didn’t have sleeves. Its size alone is awe inspiring, but before you have fully absorbed the height of the vaulted ceiling or the length of the sanctuary, you become aware of its astonishing sculptures, paintings, mosaics, and decorations. No where else in the world could the Superbowl be played inside while Michelangelo’s Pieta looks on. The other highlight of Vatican City was the Sistine Chapel. It was as spectacular as I have always believed, trumping even Raphael’s incredible paintings which we saw en rout. Though taking pictures and conversation were prohibited, everyone in the chapel did both with unrestrained enthusiasm in spite of the attendant’s feeble (And very disruptive) attempts to stop us.

On the Sunday of July 5 we attended mass in St.Peter’s. It was fascinating to see how many of those present were just tourists like ourselves and how many were genuine Catholics, going to church at the epicenter of their faith. To take mass in the capital of Catholicism, with your church’s most magnificent expression of devotion to God souring above your head and with the bones of Peter and beneath your feet, would have to be a truly religious experience for a Catholic. I was left a bit bemused, however. Should the Pope’s words or Christ’s be the guide of our religion? Are buildings like St.Peter’s the way God wants the Church to make its mark, or should the funds used to build it have been utilized instead to feed the poor? Should we place more importance on where Peter is buried or on the gospel he died for? Whether or not the Church is meant to be so physically rooted in this world, Rome’s power is still very real and its impact on millions of people is undeniable. Though its jurisdiction is spiritual instead physical, Rome remains the center of a mighty empire whose influence spreads across the globe. It truly is the Eternal City.

Daniel Shenk

Four dudes and the food

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

This past week I (Seth) have had the joyous privilege of hanging out with Matt, David, and the Daniels (whom I will refer to as “the dudes”). It’s been a blast showing them some of the sites in Fes, and also making a memorable trip to the Sahara with them. I will recall some of the good times we had from my point of view.

About 4:30 Wednesday afternoon, I answered the phone to the familiar sound of Matt’s voice and was informed that they were driving into Fes. I met them at McDonalds, the designated rendezvous point, and directed them to our house. After a rigorous game of Ultimate Frisbee, we spent the evening catching up on the details of their trip, swapping stories, and planning out their schedule for their week in Morocco.

Friday morning, my dad, Jesse, the dudes, and I set off for the ancient Roman ruins of Volubilis. It was a scorching day to be outside as demonstrated by the distinct sunburn lines displayed on Dan Shenk’s arms and neck by the end of the day. Despite the heat, we had an enjoyable time wandering through and clambering over the heaps of rock and marble. We also had the privilege of running into a professor of archeology at Oxford who was a bottomless pit of information about the ruins and the stories and traditions behind them. After leaving Volubilis we stopped in a small town on the way back to Fes where we ate a scrumptious lunch of sardine sandwiches and pop. We then returned home where we spread out to various couches and beds where we rested our tired bodies.

At 8:00 on Saturday morning Matt and Dan Shenk joined Joel and I and some other Fessie men in our weekly game of basketball. We had some intense games featuring old farts vs. young bucks until the beating sun stole all our energy and we were forced to retire to our house for a filling omelet meal.

On Sunday, which happened to be Father’s Day, we attended the International Church of Fes. Afterwards we drove up a mountain just outside of Fes, where we enjoyed a delicious Father’s Day picnic lunch. Following the picnic, we returned to the house and spent the remainder of the afternoon lounging around and relaxing. That evening we took a walk along Hassan II, the name of the main street in Fes and also of the previous king of Morocco. There was a fun night atmosphere along the street which was packed with hundreds of people milling around and enjoying the cool night air. We enjoyed watching the two large fountains at either end of Hassan II, as well as playing with a bouncy blue balloon bought by my dad from a street vendor. After several hours of strolling along the street we returned home to get a good night of rest for the looming adventures of the next day.

We awoke on Monday morning, and after eating breakfast, all five of us piled into the dudes’ beast of a car and cavorted off towards the Sahara and the adventures it held. We made stellar time on our trip, making only a couple bathroom stops and also a quick dip in a gorgeous lake flanked by mountains. After 6 or 7 hours of driving, we arrived at the Casbah Tizimi Hotel where we left the car for the remainder of the trip out to the desert. We were picked up at the hotel by a 4X4 SUV which was our mode of transport through the rather rough terrain following the hotel. The 4X4 took us out to an Auberge (inn) that sits right on the edge of the swirling mass of sand dunes that is the desert. After a hot afternoon in the car we were all ready to cool off, so we jumped into the sparkling pool at the Auberge and splashed around to our heart’s content.

At six o’clock we were notified that our camels were ready for us, so we toweled off and hopped on our camels for the ride out the encampment where we stayed the night. A little while into the 1 ½ hour trek the wind began to pick up, and soon Matt and I were forced to put our shirts back on because of the vicious sand stinging our bare backs. We eventually reached the campsite, a large circle of cloth tents, in one piece and were escorted to a Berber tent where we were protected from the harsh weather and could sit around and relax while our supper was being prepared. In about an hour, our supper of vegetables and meat was served to us much to the delight of our hungry stomachs. After letting our food and the weather settle, Matt and I decided to try sand boarding using snowboards provided by the camp. We climbed partway up a dune, and started boarding down, but soon discovered that the boards were definitely only for use on snow, judging by the very un-exhilarating speeds at which we traveled down the dune. Tired out by our long day of driving and camel riding, we soon headed for bed. All of us, with the exception of Dan Ziegler, decided to spend to take our bed mats outside of the tent and sleep under the stars (all three that were visible that night) in the cool night air. After being briefly interrupted by a small bout of rain, we dozed off and slept peacefully through the night.

The next morning we were woken up at 6:30 and served a simple breakfast, and then it was back on the camel’s backs. We plodded back to the Auberge in beautiful weather, a contrast to the previous evening’s sandstorm. Matt and I enjoyed trying various stunts on the backs of our camels, including standing up in the saddle without any hands, and somehow managing to not fall off. After arriving back at the Auberge, we all jumped in the pool and then sat in or around the pool waiting for our ride back to the hotel where the car was waiting. At 11 o’clock our ride arrived, and we returned to the hotel, picked up the car, and were on our way back to Fes. We had a fairly uneventful ride home and made good time. We went straight to the Medina upon our arrival in Fes, where the dudes made some final purchases, and we enjoyed chatting with some of the vendors and Medina denizens. Following the Medina, we hit up a DVD store where nearly any DVD is available for 10 Dirhams ($1.24). We then returned home where we ate a late supper and sat around talking for the rest of the evening.